“Gypsy” Casts a Spell at MTC

 

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Everything’s coming up roses for Music Theatre of Connecticut’s (MTC) highly entertaining production of “Gypsy.” While no one can beat Ethel Merman, who belted out the high-spirited “Rose” in the award-winning Broadway production, Kirsti Carnahan’s strong interpretation at MTC evokes enthusiasm as well as sympathy for the highly ambitious, backstage mother who’s dreams didn’t turn out exactly as expected.

I remember the 1933 Shirley Temple craze, and witnessed the world of curly-headed, little girls whose mothers lived vicariously through them. And, I can personally testify that in “Gypsy,” when Rose pops the balloons on another child’s costume so her “Baby June could gain the spotlight” -- well, this kind of underhanded nerve is very common to show business. Like any competitive sport, the saying, “Nice guys finish last,” also pertains to gaining recognition in the theatre. Talent, strong will, and an aggressive personality is vital to becoming a star. Don’t expect someone to knock on the door and ask, “Where have you been hiding, my dear star?” And yet, it’s very hard to distinguish how much parents do for love of the child, love of the art and/or to fulfill one’s own ambitions. It’s possible to have all these motives and yet, after all the sacrifices, and risk of tears during disappointments and defeats -- and still be a good parent. This is what “Gypsy” is about.

Speaking of children, Director, Kevin Connors of MTC has gathered a talented group of seemingly happy youngsters, and you can relax about them being exploited by their parents. Interestingly, many of the professional actors play several roles that are sub-titled “and others.” Because the “and other” characters are so artfully inserted in the show, it seems as if the cast is twice its size,

And so, we have several singing and dancing Baby Junes and Baby Louises who grow in stature during the show, but never seem to age when they repeatedly sing, “May We Entertain You?” To grow up slowly and still be able to wear little girls dresses, is part of the plot which begins with little Baby June (Abby Dahan), with her red-lipstick smile, and the awkward, pouting, Baby Louise (Natalie Steele). Jonah Frimmer and Charlie Pelletier are marching boy scouts and serious young actors too.

Among the adults are Paul Binotto, who mainly plays Rose’s steady lover, and Peter McClung, who executes a number of dominant, male characters (“and others”). Both men give outstanding performances. Clarissa Massaro is a cutie pie as the split squealing young adult, June, and Kate Simone is the grown-up Louise who eventually becomes the famous, strip-teaser, “Gypsy Rose Lee.” Baby June splits herself into to becoming a famous film star. An after word: June Havoc later settled in Wilton, Connecticut with her many animals. Her estate, located near an old train depot, is now a small tourist attraction.

Simone has a pleasant, singing voice and her scenes with her disappointed mother were touching. That said, she lacked the sophistication of the real queen of burlesque who turned her profession into an art form. Gypsy Rose Lee, continued performing while she was quite old, yet, she retained her slim and glamorous figure. The strip teaser seductively began her act by slowly removing just one of her gloves while singing her theme song, “Let Me Entertain You.” Then, she seemed to hesitate forever to remove the other glove. This alone was enough of a titillating experience to rouse up the crowd as she strolled slowly along the runway. The Lady was never vulgar, nor did she reveal any of today’s “Victoria’s Secrets” in front of the curtain. Sadly, the playing up to the audience, the vixen facial expressions, the contrasting effect of royal elegance mixed with mischievous teasing was missed in Simone’s final interpretation of Gypsy’s polished act.

The show is 2 1/2 hours long and I’ll admit that parts of it drag a tiny bit, however, the choreography by Becky Timms (after Jerome Robbins) is truly outstanding. The solo tap number, “All I need is the Girl,” sharply executed by charming Joe Grandy, is an absolute show-stopper, and Jeri Kansas, Marca Leigh, and Jodi Stevens are appropriately vulgar and naughty while lighting up the stage in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” With the successful team of Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim this is a hit show with a multitude of wonderful songs. Still popular favorite songs are: “Some People,” “Small World,” and “Together, Wherever we Go.” The lively orchestra and singers are under the musical direction of Thomas Conroy.

This Broadway revival is not to be missed at MTC, Norwalk’s precious jewel box of a theatre, which is located on the Post Road. Ample, self-parking is free.

Plays to Sept. 25 Tickets: 203-454-3883. This review appears in "On CT & NY Theatre" September/2016

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